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March 7, 2005

'There Is Only One Medicine': A Profile of Dr. Tran Viet Dzung

By Suzanne Dameron

"The goal of my life is to help people understand there has got to be the fusion of both matter and energy...there is only one medicine." -- T ran Viet Dzung, MD

"I desire that they guard against the use of toxic medicines...but instead use only the fine needles..." -- Huangdi

In October 2004, a group of acupuncturists assembled in Spruce Pine, North Carolina to continue their studies with acupuncture scholar, Tran Viet Dzung, MD.

What keeps these students returning each spring and fall to study with Dr. Tran, or simply "Tran," as they call him, are his passionate and inspiring lectures based on the classic texts in acupuncture and Oriental medicine.

Dr. Tran is one the few individuals in the world to possess 2,000-year-old complete volumes of all of the ancient Chinese medical texts. These texts are ancient Vietnamese documents and were given to Tran's teacher and partner, the late Nguyen Van Nghi, MD by Ho Chi Min with the mission to translate the documents and share their knowledge with the world. (Ancient Vietnam was a part of China, so the ancient volumes are rare Chinese/Vietnamese antiquities.)

The students range from medical doctors to acupuncture students to practitioners with 20 years experience. No matter what the tradition of their acupuncture training, they unanimously agree that Dr. Trans's teachings, which are based on his rigorous translation and study of these classics, have changed how they practice and helped them be more effective practitioners.

"My acupuncture expertise has grown exponentially," said Rachel Toomim, an acupuncturist for 16 years. "My treatments affect the patient more deeply, more comprehensively and I rarely need to use herbs for even complex issues. Acupuncture is more powerful, which is why you can use acupuncture once or twice a week, when you have to use herbs several times per day. If Dr. Tran can treat cancer with acupuncture, then with further study, so can I."

Kim Davidson, an acupuncturist for 12 years, said that studying with Dr. Tran has "helped me understand the roots of where Five Elements, my training, comes from ... we're not given recipes, but the reasoning. In the school in England where I went, we were taught only the spirits of the points, not the physical (medical) properties."

Barbara Brandon Schwartz, after 35 years in nursing, returned to school to study acupuncture and graduated three years ago. Unlike her colleague Kim Davidson, she was taught the acupuncture that was presented after the Communist takeover - "medicine for the masses - without the spiritual aspects." She said that "studying with Dr. Tran has totally transformed the way I practice, the way I look at Chinese Medicine ... it has accelerated what I can do and give to people."

Ed Garbacz, MD, both an internist and acupuncturist, has been practicing medicine for 18 years. He said, "I don't reach for my prescription pad right away - whether it's with the needle or penicillin. I attempt to understand the problem ... which is to say, to understand the patient. I step back, observe the patient and ask what is really happening here. That is where Dr. Tran's teachings come in. You have to have a passion and love for the human condition and that's what's missing today in our Western medical model."


According to Dr. Tran, a practitioner only needs one quality: humility. "Humility in regards to their colleagues, their knowledge and their patient. The physician knows nothing so he can learn; when he feels he has mastered knowledge, he becomes arrogant."

Before becoming an acupuncturist, Dr. Tran says he was an "arrogant" surgeon, practicing in Paris. His life changed when, on his way back to Paris after attending a surgery congress in Corsica, he missed his connecting train in Marseille by two minutes.

"I don't like wasting time," he said. He recalled hearing about a Vietnamese physician named Dr. Van Nghi (pronounced "NEE") in Marseille who was becoming known for using needles as anesthesia during surgery.

"I called him up and told him I didn't believe in what he was doing and said, 'Because we're from they same country, I'd like you to tell me if this is real or not.'"

Dr. Nghi invited Tran to his office the following morning at 5 a.m. to observe several demonstrations, but Tran remained unconvinced. Before leaving, Nghi showed Tran a stack of ancient classical texts, which Nghi was translating. When Tran told Nghi that he could read and write ancient Vietnamese, it was Nghi who was the arrogant skeptic.

"It was a meeting of two huge egos," smiled Tran.

To prove that he could do it, Tran agreed to translate a document that Nghi said would take three weeks. He called the hospital in Paris, cancelled his morning surgery and resigned from the staff.

Tran knew the language, but nothing about energetic medicine. He went into every bookstore and library in Marseille and got everything he could find on energetic medicine. He fortified himself with caffeine and set to work "night and day, night and day," until he finished.

"The more I translated, the more I thought, "That's it!' I was understanding things no professor could ever explain to me. I instantaneously felt a bridge between the two: the energetic medicine helped me to understand the Western medicine."

Ten days later, he walked into Nghi's office with the finished translation. Thus began a professional partnership between the two men that lasted three decades. Van Nghi passed away in 1999, and Tran has continued the work -- translating the ancient texts and transmitting the knowledge to colleagues around the world.


Dr. Tran rises at 5 a.m. daily "to study and reflect" upon the teachings in the ancient texts. After 34 years, Tran still considers himself a student. "For me, the transmission of knowledge is a sacred idea ... . When we take a Hippocratic oath as doctors, we promise not only to take care of patients but to transmit that which we have learned."

In addition to passionate and inspiring, students describe Dr. Tran as "rigorous, rigorous, rigorous!" During the seminar in Spruce Pine, students spend the mornings in Tran's lecture and the afternoons in clinic. Tran listens to the patient's complaint - but always lets the pulses, tongue and eyes dictate what and how to treat. His touch is experienced and each needle is inserted with great clarity - the point, the angle, the depth - all have an intent and reason.

In a transcript of a lecture online (, Dr. Tran stated, "I believe, that when you puncture a point in acupuncture, you have to understand the ... deeper meaning of acupuncture. If you are just doing it ... without any proper interpretation or real understanding, according to my experience, the results are not good."

Dr. Tran treats only with needles. He advises no changes in diet; he prescribes no herbs or supplements. "If the patient has other techniques that are complementary to the treatment such as massage or meditation, that is even better but personally, I want to see how far I can go with the techniques of acupuncture."

He counsels his students to love the human condition as part of treatment. "You have got to understand their suffering in order to do the maximum. If you don't give the maximum, how can you care for people? It is with the generosity of giving, that people change."

"We, as doctors, who are responsible for the health of people, have got to have the humility to accept that man is made of matter and energy. If you don't know the energetic aspect of medicine, you only know 50 percent, and if you only know 50 percent, you know nothing. You've got to know both...and the further I go in the study of human health, I see that there are not two medicines, but one. My task is the fusion."

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Tran Viet Dzung, MD is an internationally known acupuncturist, lecturer, and author. He is a graduate of the Medical Faculty of Paris, and is the director in charge of acupuncture at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Paris in Nice. Widely published in European and American journals, he is Adjunct Editor-in-Chief of the Revue Française de M édicine Traditionnelle Chinoise. He currently holds "continuous curriculum" studies in the U.S. at the AOM Alliance conference and in Spruce Pine, North Carolina and Lake Quinault, Washington, as well as numerous sites worldwide. For more information, visit and

Dr. Tran will present a three-day intensive course (May 8-10) at the Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Alliance's annual conference in Newport, Rhode Island in May. The topic of his course is "Refine Your Diagnostic and Treatment Skills by Knowing the Internal Branches." Sessions will begin each morning at 9 a.m. and end at 4 p.m. Persons wishing to attend need only register for those three days of the conference; for more information, visit


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